Western Life

Bass Reeves


Bass Reeves, a famous African American Deputy U.S marshal, was in charge of the west of the Mississippi River. His territory included Arkansan and Oklahoma region. He was famous for arresting more than 3,000 criminals and killing 14 dangerous felons in self-defense.


Bass Reeves was born in July 1838 as a slave in Crawford County, Arkansas, and his name was dedicated to his grandfather Bass Washington. His whole family were enslaved by William Steele Reeves, a well-known state legislator and a slaver.

Bass gained his freedom when he started to work for George Reeves as a solider in the American Civil War. George Reeves was a senior officer in the Confederate Army and son of William Reeves. He ran away to the Indian Territory where he gained his freedom after the Abolishment of slavery in 1865.

He moved back to Arkansan and became a farmer near Van Buren – there he got married and had 11 children.

When Bass Reeves reached the age of 37, US Marshal James F. Fagan hired him as a deputy US marshal and appointed him in the Indian Territory as he could speak Indian’s language. He was the first black US marshal to serve in the Indian territory and was assigned in the western district of Arkansan. At the age of 59, he started working at the federal court and was directly answering to Isaac Parker, the federal judge. He was appraised for arresting some of the most wicked criminals at that time without any causalities.

Bass Reeves was so honest about his job that he arrested his own son for a homicide. Bennie Reeves, his son, was a major suspect for the killing of his own wife. He arrested him and interrogated him until he was proven guilty. He was so successful in his career that he ended being a senior officer at Muskogee Police Department. He retired at the age of 65 and was considered as one of the best African American US Marshals.

The stories of his captures are legendary, full of intrigue, imagination and courage. On one occasion chasing two outlaws through the Red River Valley, he studied the land and drew up a plan to get them out of the house where they were hidden by the mother. He impersonated a fugitive pursued by the law who had been shot in his flight, leaving three bullet holes in his hat as a souvenir.

In 1907, the figure of the Marshals disappeared under the new administrative reorganization, where state agencies assumed control of security. Bass continued as a law enforcement officer in the police in Muskogee, Oklahoma, for two more years until he contracted a disease that deteriorated his health. He died on January 12, 1910.

For 35 years he served as Marshal of the United States, earning a reputation and a name in the history of the Wild West as the best agent of the Indian territory, capturing more than 3000 fugitives and pacifying a lawless territory. He is commended for killing “only” 14 men during his career. He always said, “I never shoot a man if it is not necessary, I only do it in compliance with duty and in self-defense.”

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